Do you recall the “historic” discovery made by NASA’s Mars rover which the space agency appeared to be teasing last week? Curiosity had reportedly found something that “is gonna be one for the history books,” a proclamation which had space enthusiasts the world over guessing that evidence of life had been discovered on the Red Planet.
Yeah, not so much. Or at least not yet, anyway.
It turns out the whole thing was a big misunderstanding, according to Mashable’s Amanda Wills. And not a transmission garbled over the hundreds of millions of miles separating Curiosity from her NASA minders back here on Earth, but rather some crossed signals of a much more pedestrian variety and much closer to home.
When Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger told NPR last week that the Mars rover had found something that “is gonna be one for the history books,” speculation about the possibly discovery of evidence of organic life quickly went into overdrive.
Less remarked upon was a rather cryptic tweet from the Curiosity team after the interview:
What did I discover on Mars? That rumors spread fast online. My team considers this whole mission “one for the history books” …
Wills figured the statement was a rather, well, curious one to make for a science team that was supposedly preparing to announce a groundbreaking Mars discovery in early December. She took the matter up with NASA social media manager Veronica McGregor, who described the tweet as an effort to “quell” a runaway rumor.
“It’s always difficult to quell rumors like this one. But at the same time it’s great to see so many people are excited and interested in what the rover might find,” McGregor told Mashable.
It seems that the misunderstanding between Grotzinger and NPR came about because the NASA scientist was discussing Curiosity’s mission and findings in general terms as “historic,” while the public radio programmer interpreted his words as a reference to a specific and recent discovery made by the surface probe.
So Grotzinger’s reference to a recent Curiosity soil sample-collecting foray that the mission’s “science team is busily chewing away on” was simply a description of the scientific process the team uses rather than a hint at a specific finding by the rover in the Martian soil, according to Wills.
McGregor further explained that the scientist’s discussion of new Curiosity data set to be released in December was just a reference to “a press conference slated for Dec. 3 at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting” which has “been on the books since Curiosity actually landed on Mars and does not coincide with a major announcement,” Wills reported.